If you're appalled--like many of your peers--you're probably thinking: Why, why should my team talk to customers? It's not their job. But if you're amazed then you'd fall into a smaller bracket of CIOs who are scouting for opportunities to better customer service and partner with the business--like Prasad. "If you believe in true partnership with your business, listening to the problems of end customers--either by meeting them personally or other means--is vital. It has to become a part and parcel of IT's change agenda," says Prasad.

Which is why, at ING Vysya Bank, when a prospective client meeting demands the attention of the IT team, Prasad ensures that they are present with the business team. For example, if the wholesale banking team wants to sell a new payment product to a prospective customer, they would probably want to understand the bank's technology platform, its systems, and potential security issues. "As a result, the IT team forms part of the pre-sales team of the business," he says.

Not many CIOs believe that. For the most part, supporting the business has been the primary function of CIOs. Meeting external customers and interacting with them to understand their pain points was never an IT leader's priority. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be. Ask Prasad and he'll tell you why CIOs and their teams can no longer be back-end boys tinkering with the nuts and bolts. "Today, there's fierce competition. CIOs and IT teams need to be much more attuned to the needs of the customer," he says.

To get a head start in that direction, Prasad turned to a feedback collection mechanism that ING Vysya Bank uses called the Net Promoter Score, which distils positive user responses from the negative ones. "With this process, we identify a set of customer touchpoints, and whenever an event occurs, feedback is taken immediately." It was the net promoter score approach that pointed to the need to change one of the banks' vital processes: Issuing new debit cards and PIN numbers. Titled 'Customer First', the initiative was rolled out after the company's call center was submerged by requests to block lost debit cards, and re-issue new PIN numbers. New cards and PIN numbers were issued about a week or so after a complaint is registered at a call center. This was a time-consuming and cumbersome process.

"We wanted to fix that and make it more customers friendly. We analyzed customer complaint data and tried to find a solution to speed up the process. We introduced 'insta-card' and 'insta-pin'. Now, a customer can walk into a branch and get a new debit card or a PIN across the counter and its activated by the end of the day," says Prasad.

The new process cut service request fulfilment cycle times by over 90 percent.

That's one upside of listening to customers. Sometimes, it could lead to the creation of a new product, that holy grail of competitive advantage. For ING Vysya Bank, that came in the form of Fixed Deposit Plus or FD+. This idea also came about from the net promoter tool.

Anyone who has ever tried to open a fixed deposit knows that it can take a long time. ING Vysya Bank's customers weren't kicked about it. So, apart from speeding up the process, ING also wanted to eliminate the need to visit a bank to open a fixed deposit account. The Bank's product and IT teams quickly got down to the job and figure that the best way was to take the mobile route.

Now, opening an FD account is a simple process. All customers need to do is send an SMS from a registered mobile number with their account number to debit, amount and tenure to book an FD instantly. FD+ was successfully launched earlier this year.

This was only possible because the IT team was involved from the beginning. "The IT team was involved in the entire product design because we need to know the entire end-to-end process of our products so as to understand the nuances," says Prasad.

Yet all of that is secondary. What's more important for CIOs and their teams to talk to customers. Ask Prasad how he rates it on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest, he says, "I would rate it 10. Ours is a completely service-based industry. Whatever money we make is driven by the deals our customers make with us. It is important that we constantly listen to their feedback."

To ensure good customer service, the bank also provides customers with a plat­form to give their feedback to open-ended questions. Collating this data, they figured that new customers weren't happy with the bank's online portal and wanted more fea­tures and functionalities. For example, some customers wanted the bank to improve the traditional mode of getting usernames and passwords for the online portal by courier.

"We took that feedback and simplified the process by moving to a self-registration mode," says Prasad. Now, a customer can register for Internet banking with ING Vysya Bank himself by using the credentials that he already has such as debit card, registered mobile number, and debit card pin.

There's no doubt that interacting with customers and taking feedback seriously has its benefits, but Prasad stresses on a defined process. "Without a defined process if you let everybody and anybody talk to the end-customer, you will lose clarity and there is a chance of confusion. Divided accountability could lead to a lot of problems."

That said, Prasad swears by involving the IT team when talking to customers. And he is planning to jump on the social media bandwagon to talk to customers. "In the future we might leverage the capabilities of social media to harness customer interaction," says Prasad.

If you still think it's not your job, it's time to change loyalties.